17.9% property tax hike eyed in Lansford
CHRIS PARKER/TIMES NEWS Lansford Borough Council's budget committee labors to contain costs as they craft a 2010 spending plan. Clockwise, from lower left: Mary Kruczek, Joseph Ondrus, President Bob Gaughan, Ron Hood Jr. and Tommy Vadyak. Secretary-Treasurer Nicole Tessitore, at the desk, crunches numbers.
Lansford homeowners could see their property tax increase by as much as 4.5 mills a 17.9 percent jump.
The property tax now stands at 25.11 mills. That means the owner of a home assessed at $25,000 now pays $627 a year. If the 4.5 mill increase is adopted, the resulting 29.61 mill tax rate would boost that bill to $740.
Borough officials are working to whittle the increase.
"At this particular point in time, we have what I feel is a fairly close but not nailed-down budget for 2010," said council President Bob Gaughan. "It appears that our millage increase for 2010 is going to be somewhere in the neighborhood of 4.5 mills. But it's not finished at this point in time. We still have additional deliberations to do. That will be on Monday. We will have a presentable budget by our regularly scheduled meeting on Dec. 9."
Lansford's proposed spending plan, as are the budgets of most communities, is struggling under a double-whammy of skyrocketing health insurance costs and a low collection rate as more taxpayers are either un-or-underemployed. Each mill generates $34,057 in revenue. But Lansford expects to generate only 83 percent of that, said Secretary-Treasurer Nicole Tessitore.
"I think we're all pretty much in the same boat as far as collections are concerned," Gaughan said.
A two-hour work session Thursday left officials frustrated.
"This year has been absolutely the most challenging budget that I have experienced in the eight years that I've been involved with municipal government. Just absolutely, positively incredible," Gaughan said.
Health care is taking a big chunk of money.
The cost of the premiums has soared, and the borough now has two additional employees to cover. The bottom line is a $90,000 increase for 2010.
"That much of an increase in one year just absolutely stunning," Gaughan said.
On Thursday, budget committee members trimmed a proposed fire tax increase from 0.15 to 0.1 mill; a recreation tax increase from 0.1 mill to 0.05, and dumped a proposal to buy a dump truck, shifting the money the borough had set aside for the purchase instead to street paving.
"The streets are deplorable," said Councilman Tommy Vadyak.
The increase in the fire protection tax is to cover increasing costs in workers' compensation and insurance and to ensure the fund's solvency.
The committee also discussed bringing trash billing - not the trash collection itself - in-house to save money.
The street light tax will also likely be increased by 0.15 mills, bringing the total to 2.25 mills. The cost, however, is expected to decrease over time as the borough takes ownership of the lights through a contract with Municipal Energy Managers.
As it tries to whittle costs, the borough is also negotiating a new police contract. Funds have been allocated for four full-time officers, a sergeant and the chief. Part-time police salaries were reduced at the police chief's request
The Police Pension Minimum Municipal Obligation has increased by $32,000, creating about a 1 mill increase.
The budget allocates $10,000 for a demonstration police cruiser, as council had approved earlier this year.